Friday, July 19, 2019

Insurgencies in the North East: Trajectory of the States

Part 1: Insurgencies of the North East: Introduction


In 1947, large parts of the Bengal Province were merged into Assam which started a slow immigration into Assam, initially of Bengali Hindus. However, there was a major influx of Bengali Hindus after the genocide of Hindus in East Pakistan. Assam and Tripura bore the brunt of this influx.

By the 1970s, Bangladeshi Muslims started emigrating as well. Consequently, agitations commenced in 1979 over illegal immigration. The massive strain of this huge additional population could not be borne by Assam and things began to crack. The anti-foreigner agitation of 1980 and Assamese-Bodo tensions further aggravated the situation. Anger and rage amongst Assamese population crept in as their land was claimed by the illegal immigrants. Thus this area became marred with insurgencies due to such clash of interests and territorial claims. The potential of communal tensions due to the rapid increase in the population of Muslim immigrants and overlapping areas of interest exists and needs to be monitored closely.

Arunachal Pradesh

The Arunachali tribes of Tibeto-Burmese origin points towards a northern connection in Tibet. Recorded history of this area is available only in the Ahom and Sutiya chronicles. This region then came under the loose control of Tibet and Bhutan, especially in the Northern areas. Thus a Buddhist connect with Lhasa, also the sixth Dalai Lama, is believed to be from Tawang. Ahoms held the areas until the annexation of India by the British in 1858. In 1938 the Survey of India published a detailed map showing Tawang as part of North East Frontier Agency (NEFA). Finally, NEFA was created in 1954 and renamed as Arunachal Pradesh on 20 January 1972 and it became a Union Territory with statehood coming on 20 February 1987.


Nagaland borders the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Burma, inhabited by 16 major tribes as well as various sub-tribes. The Naga tribes always had socio-economic and political links with tribes in Assam and Myanmar.  

Following an invasion in 1816, the area along with Assam came under the rule of Burma (Myanmar). The British East India Company took control of Assam in 1826. By 1892, all of Nagaland except the Tuensang area was governed by the British. It was politically amalgamated into Assam, which in turn was for long periods a part of the province of Bengal. It was largely due to the work of Christian missionaries that transformed Nagaland. Many Naga tribes were converted to Christianity. In 1957, the Naga Hills became a district of Assam. Statehood was officially granted in 1963 and the first state-level democratic elections were held in 1964. 


In 1824, the king of Manipur, Gambhir Singh asked the British for help and Manipur became a British protectorate. In 1826, peace was concluded with Burma. Manipur became a princely state under British rule in 1891. In 1949, Maharaja Budhachandra was summoned to Shillong, capital of the Indian province of Meghalaya where he signed a Treaty of Accession merging the kingdom into India. Thereafter, the legislative assembly was dissolved and Manipur became part of the Republic of India in October, 1949 and a full-fledged state in 1972.


The state lies in the remotest part of North East India and has larger borders with Myanmar and Bangladesh than with the Indian states of Tripura, Assam and Manipur. The word ‘Mizo’ means highlander. The maximum population of the state is tribal belonging to seven major tribes.

The British military officers in the 1850s encountered a series of raids in their official jurisdiction in Chittagong Hill Tracts from the neighbouring “natives.” Punitive British military expeditions in 1871 and 1889 forced the annexation of the entire Lushai Hills. After 1947, the land came to be called the Lushai Hills District under the Government of Assam. The inadequate action by Assam Government during Mautum Famine of 1959 lead to emergence of the Mizo National Front (MNF).The district was declared a union territory in 1972 and a federal state of Indian Union in 1986.


Tripura is the third-smallest state in the country, and is bordered by Bangladesh, Assam and Mizoram. The Bengali Hindus form the ethno-linguistic majority in Tripura with indigenous communities (scheduled tribes) forming more than 30 percent of Tripura’s population. In 1970, Tripura suffered a major influx of Bangladeshis leading to population inversion. The princely state of Tripura was merged with the Union of India in 1949. Tripura became a Union Territory on 1 July, 1963, and attained the status of a full-fledged state on 21 January, 1972.

Terrain in North East India

North East India is a difficult territory with two thirds of its area occupied by hilly and mountainous terrain. Is surrounded by the Himalayan ranges, the Indo-Myanmar peripheral chain of hills, and hills of Mizoram and Tripura.

The Eastern hilly region, characterised by a series of parallel and sub-parallel North-South trending ridges and valleys, lies on the Indo Myanmar plate boundary on the East forming the Purvanchal Range which further gets distributed into the Patkai, Naga, Barail, Manipur and Lushai Hills. The North-South alignment of low hills continues in Mizoram, lying on the Myanmar border and in the state of Tripura, which shares its international border with Bangladesh. The western part of Tripura is a plain drained by the West-flowing streams that join the river Meghna in Bangladesh to find their way to the Bay of Bengal. The region is seismically active.

To be continued


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